Exhaustion of the best kind. Spent the last three days helping friend and local blogging madman Mike Curtis of HD for Indies with his part in a triumvirate of digital HD-gods. The other two geniuses of this high definition gathering were Adam Wilt (shootout director and technical uber-geek extraordinaire) and Chris Hurd (savvy producer, clapboard, and today: precision rock-thrower) of the prolific DVInfo site.
I’d known Mike was planning a multi-camera shoot for some time, and had long ago volunteered to help in any way I could, but the merger with the Wilt/Hurd camp only happened recently, and I didn’t actually know who else was involved until the day before the shoot. Coincidentally, Adam and Chris and I have crossed paths before—back in the early days of the DV revolution, with our websites and FAQs and such, including a fateful face-to-face Long Beach conversation at DVexpo in the late ’90s. So flashbacks and small world coincidences were very heavy in the air.
It was great to see them both and catch up over margaritas, and even better to see them and their colleagues at work. They had assembled a solid group of camera professionals and an arsenal of six-shooters, er, I mean six…shooters. Um… Six cameras. With which six people could shoot. The six “pro” HD cameras were: the Panasonic AG-HVX200, Canon XL H1, JVC GY-HD100, Sony HVR-Z1U, Sony PDW-F350, and the Panasonic AJ-HDC27 ‘H’ Varicam, as a high-end reference.
The experience was great for me two-fold. First of all, it was absolutely educational. Great to get back to the latest edge of the digital video revolution and absorb some knowledge from the truly knowledgeable. I have no doubt Mike and Adam will have a wealth of information to report, once they have a chance to sift through and truly analyze all the footage shot over the long weekend. But my second joy was even simpler: today they were short on operators, and I got to get my hands dirty again. It was like riding a bike. After one shaky take, the feel of the “sticks” came right back to me. The pans got smooth, the touch on the zoom ring…natural. Damn, I’ve been away too long.
It was also very illuminating to realize what I believe will likely be the most profound discovery of the entire Shootout: There is no “best camera.” Even comparing HDV to the high-end behemoths (which are of course very very nice in many ways), this elusive “best” fantasy is really not the goal of the Shootout, even if that is exactly what many people might think they want. There is a truly eclectic range of options available in the HD camera world today. And there is possibly a “best camera” for every individual, or for every particular shoot, but there is no way to ever reach a single all-encompassing winner, no matter what.
I’m not sure I actually want to own a camera just now. Depending on what I’m shooting (and I have a rather wide range of project ideas brewing of late, from shorts to docs to eventual feature work again), I think I’d grab completely different models/brands for each use. Every DP or camera operator at the Shootout had a different favorite to match their different needs or their different styles. Sure, there are subjective agreements along the way. (”That low-light footage is definitely noisy.” “That color is too saturated.” “Those artifacts would be hell for color-correction and post work.” Etc.) But overall every camera has its own strengths and weaknesses. And every production is different.
Hopefully the Texas Shootout will ultimately help people find the best camera for their current needs, or for a given particular need. I think that’s what it’s really all about. More information and side-by-side comparisons, so every individual can make their own best choice, depending on what matters most to them and their shoot.
I really enjoyed the last three days. I met a great bunch of people who are passionate about this stuff, and that energizes me, even when I’m too tired to think straight. Gonna go sleep hard now, and probably dream digital. I look forward to seeing the results myself, as well as seeing all these guys again… online, of course, and hopefully… shooting as well.